Monday, December 01, 2008

Dangerous Ignorance And Its Cure

Ridiculous and pernicious ideas are striding across the globe -- moral equivalence, CO2 as a pollutant, collectivist statism, retreat and appeasement in the face of islamic banditry.

And we're the lucky ones, here in the West and particularly in the Anglosphere, who have the luxury of undeservedly coasting (for the time being) on the legacy of our forebearers who hewed our political rights, rational mindset, and economic opportunities from the Hobbesian darkness.
Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This inevitably leads to conflict, a "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes), and thus lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
How to reclaim our heritage?

How to fight the tide of pernicious ignorance?

The answer is education.

Indeed, self-education!

Getting back to basics.

The classics.

Specifically, the canon of great books is the place to start -- including the foundational texts of our political and economic systems. (I am dismayed, for example, at the lack of knowledge -- indeed, of disinformation -- concerning how the U.S. Electoral College works, the real purpose of which I explain here and also here. There's really a good reason for it, and it's not to thwart the will of the people!)

See a fascinating discussion of some potential lists here. The first list by David Allen White (DAW) is novel-heavy; the second list by John Mark Reynolds (JMR) is more to my personal liking with a balance of important political and historical treatises.

The two professors discuss their picks in the accompanying transcript. For example:
People who don’t have time to read are going to be ineffectual, rotten at what they do, and are not going to be the leaders that we need, particularly in the conservative movement today.
JMR: Yes, so sorry. I think Virgil’s Aeneid is also important. If you’re going to read Dante and Homer, Virgil counts. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that everybody in your audience should go home and memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, if they haven’t done it already. That’s what I’m going to work on this year, actually, as a private project, and read and totally imbibe the spirit of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. We’re at war, but we’re not at war with human beings, in one way, but with bad ideas. Christians, at least, my tradition, are called to love their enemies. That doesn’t mean we can’t do justice on them. But we need to start thinking about our enemies, I think the way Lincoln thought about his enemies.
DAW: My sense is, and this is personal opinion, it’s a miracle we’re here at all, it’s quite extraordinary. But one of the things I, at least, think most people should do in the time that they spend on this planet, is have a sense of the greatest [gift] that’s been given to us. A life itself is the greatest gift, to have an immortal soul is extraordinary, but in beginning to understand what that means, I think you’ve got to turn to the greatest writers who can give you some sense of what it’s all been about, why you’re here, what it means and where you’re going. And that means you’ve got to delve into the great writers.

[As an aside, since fiction writers can "stack the deck" in terms of plot and outcome, I've always advocated studying the history of war to understand the human condition, because it's all there -- tragedy, triumph, sacrifice, irony, etc. -- and it's all real. -- RDS]

HH: John Mark Reynolds, why this list? What’s it do?

JMR: We need young men and women with souls that are good, true and beautiful. And if we’re going to form souls that are good, true and beautiful, we can’t begin with our own souls, because all of us are in process, too. The great writers know how to shape us morally, to get to goodness. They know how to help us find the big ideas, the truths that never change from culture to culture. And they know most importantly how to make us beautiful, so that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking only things that work matter. We need beauty in our lives as well.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are miracles of modern thought, taken the 18th Century forward as modern, and we sometimes forget that just because we’re Americans doesn’t mean that we can’t be proud of something we did. I also think to understand those works, you should have read the Federalist Papers, and Democracy In America.
JMR: Everybody should read Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, and its contrast, the Communist Manifesto by Marx. If you’re ever tempted to be a socialist, the Communist Manifesto will argue you out of it.
DAW: Well, here we go. I agree with the Odyssey. The Odyssey’s got to be on there. Here’s a curiosity. It’s the first complete play we have. It’s Aeschylus’ Oresteia. And it’s about the establishing of the courts of justice in the city of Athens. It really is in a way the dawn of Western civilization, and one of the great plays ever written. So I’m going with Aeschylus’ Oresteia.
I’m going to include one of my favorites, everybody who wants to be married has to read it, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

HH: Oh, that’s a disaster for the men listening here.

DAW: No, no, no. It’s a great book, and boy, they can learn something about being a man. She had a better sense of manhood than most men in our time…

HH: Can we watch the movie instead, David Allen White?

DAW: No, you’ve got to read it. The sentences are exquisite, and the wisdom of this woman is profound. Here’s one, again you can call it a cheat, but this book actually exists. And in fact, I bought it when I was in high school. It’s still out there. It’s called the Immortal Poems of the English Language. It’s an anthology – Sidney, Spencer, Marlowe, Jonson, Donne, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Hopkins, Whitman, Dickenson, Frost, all in one volume.
JMR: If you’re at war, you ought to be reading Boethius, the Consolation of Philosophy.

HH: Wait. What? That is alien to me. I have no idea what you just said.

DAW: Oh, it’s a great work, Hugh.

JMR: Yeah, it’s the work that deals with fate and God’s relationship to fate. The world’s a tough place to live in, and how should we handle the tough things that happen to us?

HH: Go back over the title and the author again slowly.

JMR: It’s Boethius, the Consolation of Philosophy. And for about five hundred or six hundred years, it was the most widely read book in the Western world.

HH: Wow.

JMR: So it’s an important one to take a look at. I’m going to agree with the Orestia. And then for my students, I’m going to add Cicero on Friendship and on Duties. These are must reads for modern people who have forgotten all about doing their duty, and the nature of friendship as well. And then finally, a book that I think is vile and evil, but everyone should have read at least some of, is Hobbes’ Leviathan, if you want to see the kind of state we want to avoid at all cost.
Now I’ve got to ask you both, given that there is so much agreement about the canon, and there really is. If you talk to educated people who are serious about ideas, they always say the same thing. Why isn’t it taught, David Allen White?

DAW: Because modern universities and colleges are the biggest fraud on the planet.

JMR: Here, here.

DAW: And they continue to get away from it. They loathe Western civilization. They hate Western civilization, and they will do anything to destroy it, which means destroying the canon. If you don’t teach the young where they came from, and the greatness of the past, you can do away with the whole thing. And sadly, I think that’s what’s happening.
JMR: We end up with waiting lists of people begging to get into this kind of thing. You know what? People eventually understand that they’re being defrauded of their roots, they’re being defrauded of a good education. And as you start to help them get a hold of the real thing, they become hungry for it, with a passion that passes anything you’ve ever seen. Our students aren’t worse than they were 100 years ago. The teachers are worse. We’re worse.
JMR: Some things are hard to learn, but they’re worth learning. You need to press on and trying to get what you can. Repetitive reading of books is a great idea. If a book’s worth reading once, it’s generally worth reading multiple times.

[I've always believed in repetitive drill, especially in math -- "rote" learning has gotten a bad name. -- RDS]
DAW: the Divine Comedy, when Dante’s taking his journey, he’s got to have Virgil there to guide him, and then Beatrice and then St. Bernard. You know, you’ve got to have a guide.
Read the full transcript carefully, and start reading those books!

And make your own lists of essential reading!

And share with your friends and children!

The long hard slog of re-education is essential for defeating the leftist disease rotting out the core of our civilization. We must reclaim a pride in our heritage, which first requires knowing what it even is!

Otherwise our society could easily end up like this commenter at Belmont Club observes of certain others -- that our civilization is different is an incredible gift; it didn't have to be that way:
Witnessing the differences in culture up close for so long has changed my mind about the likelihood of success. The nature of the Arab/Muslim society is so dysfunctional and unsuited for modern democracy and a free society I don’t see how we can withdraw in three years with any chance of lasting change.

The symbiosis of tribal life and Islam seems to mold a society that is at the simultaneous moment aggressive and abrasive and claimant to victim status. The shame culture leads to perpetual deceit and the inability to reconcile one’s mistakes and make changes. The perpetual degradation of women is abetted by other women and results in a male female dynamic we in the west would never tolerate. From my discussions with our guest, who blamed her sister for her brother’s repeated beatings of same sister, the entire nation suffers from battered woman syndrome.

Then there is the Inshallah syndrome, which means you never have to take initiative or sort anything out really, much less think rationally.
Perhaps that assessment is too pessimistic -- maybe the culture can change, especially if they can get away from the bondage of islam.

But if we can't be bothered to pick up a book and learn where all our freedoms and bounty came from, we are unworthy of these gifts.

The solution is to get serious and learn.

The notion of discrediting the "dead white males" was designed to weaken our culture so it could be destroyed.

Don't fall for it!

Here are the lists; the side notes are from the Professors:
Professor David Allen White, U.S. Naval Academy
Dialogs of Plato
Homer's Iliad
Dante's Divine Comedy
Cervantes' Don Quixote [I read it every year]
Dickens' David Copperfield [great story, great storyteller]
Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov [historical, philosophical]
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
The Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [the great book of our age]
Homer's Odyssey
Aeschylus' Oresteia
Aristole's Ethics
Virgil's Aeneid
Aquinas' Summa Theologica
Pensees – Blaise Pascal [French for "thoughts"]
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen [everyone who wants to be married has to read this]
Immortal Poems of the English Language – edited by Oscar Williams
Moby Dick – Herman Melville [greatest book written by an American]
Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
Song of Roland, Chanson de Geste [great battle poem of all time, extraordinary character study]
Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
Alice In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll [understand the modern mind]
Through The Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll [here is the modern world in spades]
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Collected Poems, 1909-1962 – T.S. Eliot
Witness – Whittaker Chambers
The Complete Stories – Flannery O'Connor
Of A Fire On The Moon – Norman Mailer
Lost In The Cosmos – Walker Percy

Professor John Mark Reynolds, Biola University
Homer's Odyssey
Aristole's Ethics [learn to think about things correctly]
Plato's Republic [I reread every semester of my life]
Sophocles' Oedipus Rex [understand the nature of truth, and where theater comes from]
Augustine's Confessions [I read every year]
The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri [great poetry, great science, great theology]
The 2nd Treatise on Government – John Locke [one of the hardest books to read]
Virgil's Aeneid
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address
Declaration of Independence [miracles of modern thought]
Constitution of the United States
Federalist Papers – Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
Democracy In America – Alexis de Tocqueville
Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith
Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx
On the Origin of Species – Charles Darwin [it's not fascinating, it's important]
The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals – Friedrich Nietzsche
Civilization And Its Discontents – Sigmund Freud
Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis [best essay written in the 20th Century]
Aquinas' Summa Theologica
Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli
The Faerie Queene – Edmund Spenser [C.S. Lewis described as a psychologically purifying moment]
Calvin's Institutes
Paradise Lost – John Milton
The Consolation of Philosophy – Ancius Boethius [tough things, fate, God's relationship to fate]
Aeschylus' Oresteia
Cicero's On Friendship and On Duties
Leviathan – Thomas Hobbes [a vile and evil book]


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